We All Fear What We Don’t Understand

What We Don't Understand, We Fear

We all fear what we do not understand.
― Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol

I suspect that this quote actually pre-dates Mr. Brown’s 2009 book, but the original source is proving elusive. A longer, perhaps more telling version:

What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear, we judge as evil. What we judge as evil, we attempt to control. And what we cannot control…we attack.

The author seems to be the exceptionally prolific, and in this case insightful, Mr. “unknown”.

All I can say is that humans apparently don’t understand a great many things.

The left is afraid of the right.

The right is afraid of the left.

The working class fears the corporations.

The technologically challenged are afraid of their computers.

Christians are afraid of Muslims.

The list goes on…

The solution is hard, requires work, and requires self-examination.

It requires acknowledging that your fear is based on a lack of understanding, followed by a willingness to make an effort to fix that. Few are willing to set aside their preconceptions and their fear to question their own beliefs and assumptions.

It’s more complex than that, of course. Many won’t even acknowledge the fear and proceed directly to “attack”.

Resolution means walking the progression of the lengthier quote backwards:

  • stop attacking that which you cannot control
  • stop trying to control that which you judge as evil
  • stop judging as evil that which you simply fear
  • start trying to understand that which you fear

The problem? Each step requires self-awareness, which is something that precious few seem to have. Each step requires thoughtful evaluation, which takes time and effort few seem willing to invest. Each step requires objective, unbiased information, which is getting harder and harder to find.

The result? It’s much easier to let often unacknowledged fear guide you, let a crowd of like-minded do the thinking for you, and proceed down the path: fear to evil to control to attack.

At times like these I marvel that the human race survives at all.

But then I run across additional variations of the quote, such as this:

We often fear what we do not understand; our best defense is knowledge.
Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager)

Which reminds me that we live in an age of unparalleled access to information and knowledge. As bad as things may feel today, the ignorance in which people lived in past was far worse.


2018-Feb-9: minor edits for republish upon noticing that this post, originally published December 11, 2016, is currently my blog’s most popular post.

Comments

  1. christopher w martin says:

    I have been building a devotional based on the Fear Nots in the Bible. I went from believeing myself to be relatively fearless to doing a LOT of self-exam.

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